Collateral Damage

Abraham accompanied God and His two travelling companions *part of the way to Sodom* to ensure they didn’t get lost. While walking, God wondered whether to tell Abraham of what He intended for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because the men living in them were too wicked.

The thing was, God intended Abraham to be the father of a great and powerful nation, and that all nations would pray to be blessed as Abraham’s nation would be blessed. However, Sodom and Gomorrah were flies in the ointment so to speak, being cities filled with men so incorrigibly wicked that they wouldn’t pray to be blessed.

God said to Abraham, “I’ve heard things about Sodom and Gomorrah which are so bad that I must go there to ascertain whether it’s as bad there as I’ve been led to believe. I simply have to know the truth.”

Abraham had detected in the timbre of God’s voice, something that left him in no doubt that God had already made up His mind to do away with Sodom and Gomorrah and all their peoples, regardless of any mitigating factors. Abraham felt uneasy about this, so he said to God, “Sire, you will know as well as I, that a basket of rotten figs will always contain some good figs.”

“What’s the point you’re trying to make” said God.

“Well Sire, just as a basket of rotten figs will contain some good figs, so will a city of bad men contain some good men.”

“Are you implying that there are some good men in Sodom and Gomorrah, despite men there being generally bad?”

“Exactly Sire.”

“What do you wish me to do about it?”

“Let me put it this way Sire. What if You find that, for instance, in Sodom there are fifty good men? If You destroy Sodom You’ll destroy those fifty good men along with all the countless bad men there. Is it just that good men are destroyed along with bad men? Wouldn’t it be more just to save Sodom on account of these fifty good men?”

“You have a point, Abraham” said God. “Here’s what I’ll do. If I find there are fifty good men in Sodom, I’ll spare the whole city for their sake.”

“May I be so presumptuous, Sire, as to say something further, even allowing that in the eternal scheme of things I’m as dust and ashes?”

“What is it?”

“I wish not to be argumentative Sire. But…..what if You find that there are only forty-five good men in Sodom – five less than the fifty we talked of? Will You destroy Sodom because there are five more bad men than You had thought?”

“Alright” said God. “If I find there are forty-five good men I’ll not destroy the city”.

“But Sire, what if there are only forty good men?”

“Alright alright. If there are forty good men I’ll spare the city.”

“Please don’t be angry Sire, but what if there are thirty good men?”

“Just for you Abraham, if there are thirty good men I won’t destroy the city.”

“May I presume to speak further, Sire?”

“You’re pushing the inside of the papyrus, Abraham”, said God.

“Sire, what if there are twenty good men?”

“If so, I’ll not destroy the city. Are you satisfied now?”

The way God said this, and the now visibly throbbing pulse at the side of God’s neck, and the veins standing out, made Abraham tremble. But, such was his courage that he said, “I can see, Sire, that you are becoming angry. Were I You, I would be angry too. If I could speak just once more?”

God stopped walking and turned to Abraham, who felt God’s narrowed black eyes boring into him with a malevolence of which only God was capable. Abraham felt numb and disembodied. He heard a quavering voice saying, “Suppose, Sire, there are ten good men?”

God took a deep and slow breath, and said, “For the sake of ten good men, I will not destroy the city.” Whereupon He resumed His journey towards Sodom.

Abraham watched God and His two companions recede into the distance. When he could see them no more he returned to Mamre and his tent among the terebinth trees.

Source: Genesis 18, 16-33

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16 Responses to Collateral Damage

  1. Richard says:

    All this math is befuddling me, as usual.

    God and his angels seem to have been more fleshy then than they are now, what with throbbing pulses, black, penetrating eyes and whatnot. Are you quite sure they weren’t aliens?

  2. Christopher says:

    Who knows?!!

  3. Man of Roma says:

    You made me laugh so much Christopher, you English people certainly do have a gift!

    But let me tell you, if God had been so argumentative and condescending – as you present him in your writing – I’d have reconverted in my youth. I mean, he is even more humane than Christ himself!

    Of course, for the sake of character truthfulness, you cannot but observe how “he narrowed his black eyes” – black because God was Jewish I guess – and notice that “a throbbing pulse at the side of God’s neck …the veins standing out, made Abraham tremble”.

    Still a bit scary, ok, and yet – hope you won’t consider me too blasphemous – I kind of like your God more than the original 🙂

  4. Richard says:

    I watched this programme recently:

    [link deleted at your request – Christopher|

    It suggested that the god of Genesis was a historical king and that Eden was a garden constructed by him.

  5. Christopher says:

    @MoR – I dunno. I prefer God to be someone perfect, with not a blemish – someone I can look up to as a moral exemplar, or at least is a safe pair of hands (this is a cricketing term!!).

    If God does exist, I hope He’s looking down approvingly on how I’m depicting Him in these posts!!

    @Richard – At your request I deleted the link, although I didn’t see anything really eyebrow-raising in it. Anyway, none of the videos I clicked on to worked on my computer.

    Your comment raises the interesting question about how factually true the Old Testament is, not to speak of the New Testament.

    The authors of “The Bible Unearthed” (Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman) say that archaeological diggings in today’s Israel/Palestine tell very different stories than the ones in the Old Testament. For starters, almost all the kings and other dignatories in it never existed.

    For me this doesn’t matter, since the Old Testament is wonderful as literature, and it does have some thought-provoking morality tales. Think only of Genesis 18, 16-33. Did the Bible-thumping church-goers who permeated the Bush White House think of this text when they decided to drop bombs on Iraq and Afghanistan?

  6. Richard says:

    Thank you, Christopher.
    The language of the Old Testament is powerful. Its influence is sometimes good, sometimes bad.
    The parallel you draw to action in Iraq and Aghanistan is an impressive one. Has the lesson been learned, in part ?

  7. Man of Roma says:

    I prefer God to be someone perfect, with not a blemish – someone I can look up to as a moral exemplar

    I well understand and it is at the base of our religion. We need a moral ideal to guide us. But, like everything – I like dialectics – such notion, of a morally perfect God, may make us feel tainted, insecure.

    Our Greco-Roman gods were instead amoral and whimsical (namely Homeric-Olympian gods, not the mysteries religions ones, closer to the Judeo-Christian notion of sin and redemption).

    Paradoxically such amoral gods had a good effect: humans had to make their own destiny, they had to believe in their worth – how could they count on such gods who were at times even ‘envious’ of the people who were too fortunate and whacked them?

    A totally diverse attitude, I understand, which as far as I can tell, being rediscovered during the Renaissance launched those Europeans who faced the big ocean to the conquest of the world 🙂

  8. Man of Roma says:


    I of course mean by dialectics what was possibly invented by Socrates, Plato and the Indians many many years ago. Basically an inner debate where one sees the pros and cons of everything in order to reach better conceptions.

    Modern logic (Wittgenstein etc.) has condemned such procedures as unfruitful (W was enervated by Plato). I was taught dialectics by my beloved mentor but I understand it can lead to the type of onanism where one says all and its contrary.

  9. Christopher says:

    @Richard – ….The parallel you draw to action in Iraq and Aghanistan is an impressive one. Has the lesson been learned, in part?……

    Intellectually, perhaps; emotionally, no.

    @MoR – I wonder how our collective western mindset has been affected by our monotheistic religion (“Thou shalt have no other gods but me.”)

    Has it bred an intolerance for values or cultures not our own, or of peoples not like us?

    Would Western civilisation have been kinder and gentler had its religion remained polytheistic?

  10. Man of Roma says:

    Christopher my opinion you know it and we have discussed such things over at Richard.

    Imperialism, colonialism in the West would not have changed (the Greeks and the Romans were imperialists etc.) but we would have been more tolerant as for ‘diverse’ values and cultures had our religion remained polytheistic in my opinion. For example the Romans respected all cultures and religions (with the exception of the Jewish and the Christian: not by chance, since the Judeo-Christians ‘excluded’ the possibility of any ‘otherness’) and were not racists since the soldiers mixed with the local women everywhere they went [see France, Spain, Portugal, Romania etc.). After the conquest of Gaul, modern France + Belgium, Caesar admitted many Gaulish senators in the senate of Rome.
    The astounding American civilizations would have not been wiped out by the Spanish, no wars of religions would have occurred during the Renaissance, less sexual repression … maybe less love-your-neighbour attitude…. I think Christ brought a lot of wonderful notions, but it was counterbalanced by fanaticism. We loved our neighbour only when he /she exactly shared our religion views, otherwise we did all sort of horrible things to him /her.

    Well, I admit there is some fanaticism in me. Hence, being polytheist, I am a freak.

  11. jenny says:

    I marvel at this story still. Don’t you expect Abraham to (Allow me the expression. It’s funny in this context, as Abraham was the first Jew, and I use it affectionately.) “jew” God all the way down to sparing Sodom for the sake of just one good man? Doesn’t the story want us to expect that? I think it does. And then it just doesn’t deliver.

    So we don’t know whether Sodom had just nine good men, or just one, or none at all.

    And didn’t God just (a few short stories ago, after the flood) promise not to destroy the world again?

  12. Richard says:

    @ Christopher I wonder how our collective western mindset has been affected by our monotheistic religion (“Thou shalt have no other gods but me.”)

    Has it bred an intolerance for values or cultures not our own, or of peoples not like us?

    Would Western civilisation have been kinder and gentler had its religion remained polytheistic?

    Hear! Hear! I’ve been saying the same about the Big Bang for years. These singularities are the cause of all our problems.

  13. Christopher says:

    @MoR – ……Imperialism, colonialism in the West would not have changed……..but we would have been more tolerant as for ‘diverse’ values and cultures had our religion remained polytheistic in my opinion…….

    While we can only speculate how different the nature of colonialism would have been had the European colonisers of Africa and Asia and the Americas been polytheistic, we don’t have to speculate about the different natures of colonialism under Protestant and Catholic colonisers.

    I realise, of course, that differences between Protestant and Catholic societies are not quite the same as differences between monotheistic and polytheistic societies. However, in the case of European colonialism, the dominant type of religious belief in any colonial power seemed to affect its attitudes towards its colonised peoples.

    Strict racial segregation was imposed by Dutch Calvinists in South Africa and by American Calvinists in the Deep South. In both these societies, racial segregation was carried to an absurd extreme – separate buses, trains, water fountains, public toilets, gangways, schools, universities, and neighbourhoods. Sex across the “colour line” was, needless to say, verboten.

    As far as I know, the French, Spanish and Portuguese (Catholic) colonisers had far more relaxed, tolerant and inclusive attitudes towards their subject peoples. How was this with the Italian (Catholic) colonisers of Libya?

    I speculate that the more relaxed and inclusive attitudes of the Catholic colonisers came out of the sacrament of Confession, which Protestantism (excepting the Anglicans) doesn’t have.

    @Jenny – I assumed that Lot’s family, who all escaped, comprised all the good men of Sodom and Gomorrah. Since God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah we must assume that Lot’s family were less than ten. If you don’t assume this, you’re implying that God broke His word to Abraham. Surely you’re not implying this?!!!

    I can’t help but conclude that the societies which were the subject of the Christian Old Testament and the Torah were somewhat sexist. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, while we can assume that they had less than ten good men, what about the women of Sodom and Gomorrah? For all we know, they may all have been good and virtuous. If so, then God has some explaining to do.

    On the other hand, given the sexual proclivities of the men milling around Abraham’s house, who consisted of all the men of Sodom, there may well have been no women in Sodom (except Lot’s wife and his daughters-in-law).

    We don’t know about Gomorrah, but we can perhaps assume that Gomorrah had no women either? If so, God is exonerated.

    @Richard – The Big Bang theory arising out of an intolerant monotheistic mindset? What would those two high priests of Atheism, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, have to say about this?!!!

  14. Man of Roma says:


    How was this with the Italian (Catholic) colonisers of Libya?

    Our empire – a peanut compared to the French and British empires – was though made of Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Greek Dodecanese Islands (Rhodes etc.) and according to Mussolini it was equal or bigger than the Roman empire itself.

    As I try show in my blog there’s some paganism (ie polytheism) in Italians and in Catholicism (well, I don’t have to prove it much since for ex. all protestants agree; I show this paganism in posts like those on Catholic saints – 1 and 2 – in case you are interested).

    Wherever Italians went (exactly as you said all the Latin colonizers) they mated with the local girls, mixed races came out of it and we never practised apartheid. I don’t think the Protestants were worse people. They simply were more Christians than we have ever been. Difference of climate (sunny here almost all the time) may have been a factor of relaxation too, but I believe the main difference to be Latins but especially Italians (Greece disappeared unfortunately) had an extremely complex urbanized pagan Greco-Roman civilization 1 thousand years before Christianity arrived (not to be compared with the simpler Nordic paganisms). While North Europe went into complex civilization together with Christianity. This in my view created a difference, more than the climate probably.

    What I think about paganism in Italians you can find in *Traces of Paganism in Italians*

    An Aussie university student wrote his thesis starting from some of these theories (you see his work linked at the above page) and the French-German cultural TV (Arte) wants to interview me on this and other topic. Not that I’m not flattered by this – Italians are vainglorious -, but I don’t need this more that I need my very bossy wife to stop yelling at me whenever I type on my pc keyboard for my blogs :mrgreen:

  15. Man of Roma says:

    Christopher, there’s an exchange between Richard and myself over at my blog – it regards my 2nd post on Arab upheavals ie my latest post.

    I’d like your opinion if possible. Thanks in any case. Giovanni

  16. Christopher says:

    @MoR – Could the bacchanalian lifestyle of Silvio Berlusconi – which would have led to his dismissal had he been the prime minister in any other Western country – have arisen out of the pre-Christian (Roman) mindset of Italian culture?

    ……Wherever Italians went………..they mated with the local girls, mixed races came out of it and we never practised apartheid……..

    Despite that sex across the “colour line” was verboten in Calvinistic-ruled apartheid South Africa, and in Calvinistic-ruled American Deep South, DNA studies and genealogical records show that most “white” people (certainly) in today’s South Africa, and most “white” people (arguably) in today’s American Deep South, have some indigenous African ancestry.

    No laws or prohibitions, however strict, could entirely thwart human nature.

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